Celebrating Black Women Writers

Feb 26, 2015

In the mid to late 1970s, WYSO broadcast the voices of three remarkable black women writers, and these tapes are preserved in the WYSO Archives. The work of Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Alice Walker still resonates today. Rediscovered Radio’s Jocelyn Robinson reflects on these writers and their work.

One of my first tasks as the WYSO Archives Fellow was to listen to hours of digitized historic tape in order to mine the collection for hidden jewels, like a recording of the unmistakable voice of Maya Angelou reading her poem Harlem Hopscotch.

After her death last May, we honored Maya Angelou’s life and work by sharing an interview that aired back in 1975. We’ve since learned that it was produced by Lin Harris at WBAI in New York, and distributed nationally by Pacifica Radio.

I also found two locally produced documentaries that feature the work of significant black women writers. This was an especially exciting discovery for me as an instructor of African American women’s literature.

An article previewing Gwendolyn Brooks' May 1977 appearance at Central State University
Credit courtesy of Central State University Archives

Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks was the poet laureate of Illinois, an honor she held from 1968 until her death in 2000. She’d come to Wilberforce in May of 1977 to read her work and to donate scholarships for Central State University students, but she also sat down with then WYSO Public Affairs Director William Miller and volunteer Cheryle Brown.

When Alice Walker came to give a reading at Antioch College in April of 1979, it was well before The Color Purple made her a household name, though when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award in 1982, she was already known for her feminist scholarship and social justice work. Willa Seidenberg, an Antioch alumna who now teaches broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California, was News Director at WYSO back then, and she produced a documentary that included Alice Walker reading “One Child of One’s Own,” her essay exploring the tension between creativity and motherhood.

I shared these historic recordings with my colleague Dr. Sharon Lynette Jones, Professor of English Language and Literatures at Wright State University.

"I think what’s fascinating to me is that even after the period in which a lot of these interviews took place, they really continued to grow and push themselves and experiment in terms of form and technique and structure and really paved the way for other people to feel liberated in what they could do in terms of their writing," says Jones.

The WYSO Archives has recordings of writers of all genres, like Robert Bly, Studs Terkel, Pablo Neruda, and Susan Sontag. Some are national broadcasts, but others are programs produced right here at WYSO. We even have tape of Yellow Springs literary legends Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff. Once the Archives officially opens in June, these and so many more historic media will be available to the public. We can’t wait to share these gems with you.

Major funding for Rediscovered Radio is provided by the Ohio Humanities Council and the Greene County Public Library. The WYSO digital audio archives will open for public listening in June of 2015.